Celtic Hearts: The Falcon Laird

Susan here — Happy April Fool’s, happy Spring, and here’s wishing you enjoyed a lovely weekend of good weather, goodies, good company and wellbeing, whatever your holiday and faith!

In the past few weeks I have had three of my Scottish medievals in the Celtic Hearts series released. Available now are The Hawk Laird, The Falcon Laird, and The Swan Laird (Book 3 is posted for preorders), and I’m happy to say they are all doing very well in their new incarnations. A little about the process and background of this series: these are newly revised editions of previous award-winning novels, retitled and updated with gorgeous new covers. Digital publishing has changed the book industry and altered the world of the writer too. Now we can retool our older books to update and improve them for new readers — a great thing, as I’m a better writer now than I was then, so it’s a privilege to be able to bring that experience to a book that I wrote as a newbie. It takes time and care to do a clean edit, and I took that time with each backlist title that I worked on to trim excess language, add clarity and tighten pacing, while leaving the story intact–plot, characters, emotional and thematic content, integrated research, and so on. I have always loved these stories, and I love them even more now that I’ve revisited and revised and made them stronger. I hope you will love them too.

“A stunning historical love story. A beautiful medieval Scottish setting, well-paced exciting adventure, and two destined lovers. Perfect.”  — Amazon reader on The Hawk Laird

(By the way, every month, we do a random drawing for a free book for our Word Wenches newsletter subscribers, and this month’s giveaway is a copy of THE FALCON LAIRD. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you still have time to enter this month’s giveaway! Click here or use the link in the right-hand column to sign up to receive our monthly newsletter.)

I’m a writer and also a trained historian, so I love the chances that historical fiction offers to dive into some fascinating research and give it some life in a piece of fiction. Many of my stories begin somewhere in the research — characters and situations emerge as I learn about historical events and historical people, and the story begins to take shape. THE FALCON LAIRD (originally titled The Angel Knight) was inspired when I read about the cruel treatment of Robert Bruce’s kinswomen at the hands of the English under orders from Edward I of England.

In September 1306, several of Bruce’s kinswomen were captured near Kildrummy Castle by English and taken south. His queen, Elizabeth, his daughter Marjorie (11 years old), his two sisters, Lady Mary and Lady Christina Bruce, and his cousin, Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Buchan, barely twenty and married to an earl twenty years her senior under Edward’s influence—the women were all taken into England. Mary, wife of the chief of Clan Campbell at the time, and Isabella, who had ridden through the night on a stolen horse months earlier to place the crown on Bruce’s head according to the tradition of her clan, received the harshest treatment, placed in specially constructed iron cages that were apparently displayed at least part of the time on castle ramparts at Roxburgh and Berwick.

Historians differ on whether or not the cages were publicly displayed; it was certainly Edward’s intention, made clear in his orders, still extant today, which give instructions for the cages and orders to keep the women there in very unkindly ways. The king also ordered a cage built for Bruce’s daughter, although his councillors were apparently so horrified that they talked him out of it. Marjorie, the queen, and Bruce’s other sister were closely confined in English convents. In addition, Lady Christina’s husband and other men loyal to Bruce were killed in an attempt to rescue them. The women in the cages were confined for years; Lady Mary was freed from the cage by 1310 but not released to the Scots with the other women until 1314; Lady Isabella, taken to a convent in 1310, was not mentioned in the 1314 negotiations and surely had died by that time.

I was so appalled by their fates and Edward’s unspeakable cruelty that I dove into the research and created an additional cousin of Bruce, Lady Christian MacGillan, for the novel. Edward’s malice toward the Scots was ferocious on many levels for many years; his inhumane treatment of the Bruce women is just one example.

I am still appalled and fascinated by this bit of history, and I’ve returned to it in other novels (look for more references to the situation in The Scottish Bride, my NEW June release – now available for preorder!).

I’m not quite done with it yet, I think, as I have other stories around these women brewing in my head!

Here’s an excerpt from THE FALCON LAIRD.

Grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit back, and step through the mists into 14th century Scotland. . . .

Lady Christian MacGillan burns her Scottish castle to prevent the English enemy from taking it, knowing they want the gold hidden in its ruins. Soon captured, Christian spends months in an iron cage, and grows deathly ill – believing she is saved when she sees a vision of an archangel. But he is only an English knight standing by the cage.

Sir Gavin Faulkener objects to the cruel treatment of the beautiful Scottish rebel and demands her release. The king gives him custody of the lady and her castle – if he will find the treasure hidden there. Reluctant, Gavin has secrets to protect, and wounds to heal after tragedy – but when the captive girl awakens his closed heart, he would walk into fire for her . . .

January 1307, Scotland, The Borders

GAVIN felt struck to his very soul.

Lady Christian lifted her head, dark hair in straggling tendrils framing her gaunt face, and looked directly at him for a moment. That flash of deep green was a startling burst of life, a steady gaze that showed strength and pride and did not ask for pity. His heart wrenched for a moment, as if her fragile soul touched his own, carefully guarded as it was. The girl subsided into the pool of her shabby woolen cloak. He glanced at his uncle.

“Fainted away, she has,” John said. “God save us, she looked at you as if you were some saint, standing there. As if you–” he stopped. “What was it Queen Eleanor called you, years ago? Angel Knight. And this one looked at you as if you were her heavenly savior.”

Gavin winced. The queen had given him the sobriquet years ago, in part because his shield and badge featured an angel. The Faulkeners had been royal falconers generations ago and their shield featured falcons, but his grandfather had added a winged angel to the design. Queen Eleanor had claimed, with affection, that Sir Gavin was beautiful as an archangel. He knew he resembled his Scottish mother, elegance hardened in her son; and he knew he had his mother’s Celtic gift, too–a strange healing touch, though he kept that knowledge secret.

As a young knight, he had enjoyed the attention of the queen and ladies of the court. He had charmed them, enjoyed their favor, thought himself special and gifted. He should have known it could not last. He had become arrogant–and the years had cleansed him of it. But humility came at a high price. He was no longer the darling of the court, and he had lost his pretty young wife to a wasting illness, his touch useless. War and tragedy had humbled him. Devastated him.

This caged Scottish girl needed his help too. But he was no savior. He could not have helped his wife – nor could he help this wretchedly ill girl now. Once he had believed he was gifted, blessed. But his soul had grown hard, lost in shadow. No one would call him angel now.

He studied her. He knew the signs—rapid, shallow, noisy breaths; pale skin and bluish lips; coughing and weakness. The lung illness had a fierce hold on her. She could not be saved. Yet he wanted to tear open that cage and carry her away to safety. A foolish notion.

“King Edward has little mercy where the Scots are concerned,” he told his uncle.

“Gavin, we cannot leave here without seeing her free first.”

“What would you have me do? Steal her away? I have no assurances to give you.”

“The sentry said Sir Oliver Hastings brought her here last September,” John said.

“So the king’s demon still rides for England.”

“Aye. He visits this girl sometimes, they say, and questions her mercilessly. Orders food withheld, blankets removed. He wants something from her.”

Gavin fisted his hands. “I know he has a taste for cruelty. What does he want?”

“The sentry only knows she will not talk to Hastings, though he has beaten her for refusing.”

“Jesu,” Gavin growled. “Must you tell me this?”

“Aye,” John said.

Though his heart seemed to twist in his chest, Gavin turned away and strode along the wall walk. “She will likely die before the king would grant me an interview.”

“You must help her. Angel knight—it is still in you, lad,” John said.

Gavin gave a flat laugh. “I spent eight years in the French court. A man emerges a cynic or a sinner from there. Never a saint. She is dying. Worse, she is a Scot. Edward will not listen.”

“You can convince him.”

“You credit me too well. I spoke my mind about cruelty at Berwick–and earned charges of treason and exile. I am scant hope as that girl’s savior. Remember, Edward despises the Scots with a poisonous fury.” He stalked ahead, then saw a sentry nearby. “Bring a coal brazier and blankets to the prisoner,” he snapped.

The guard blinked. “My lord–”

“Now!” Gavin roared. The man nodded and ran along the wall walk.

“Ah,” John remarked as they walked on.

“Little enough to do for the girl,” Gavin muttered.

“That, and getting permission to remove her to a convent, is little enough well done.”

Gavin sighed. Truly, the girl in the cage tugged at his heart. “It would take a miracle to convince King Edward to show mercy.”

“You can do it,” John said.

“I no longer believe in miracles.” Gavin strode away through cold fog.


I hope you enjoyed the excerpt! Do you read Scottish historical fiction, medieval or other?

Leave a comment below to be eligible to win an ebook copy of THE HAWK LAIRD, Book 1 in the Celtic Hearts series!


4 thoughts on “Celtic Hearts: The Falcon Laird”

  1. WOW! I guess the hate we see in today’s day and time could be even worse. I am grateful we don’t have any battlements around so we could hang cages.

    Appalled is not even a strong enough word.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. I’ve always been appalled by the treatment of those women too – totally barbaric and so cruel! Looking forward to reading your stories – those covers are just gorgeous!

  3. Really it leaves me speechless, I only hope for such courageous behavior if asked of me.
    Sounds like a wonderful read Susan!


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